Security and Defense: Protecting the weakest link

Home Front commander Eisenberg has the unenviable task of preparing the public for a future war.

Firefighter carries remains of Katyusha rocket 311 (R) (photo credit: baz ratner/reuters)
Firefighter carries remains of Katyusha rocket 311 (R)
(photo credit: baz ratner/reuters)
In 1991, during the First Gulf War, Eyal Eisenberg was part of an elite team of Israel Defense Forces soldiers stationed near the nuclear reactor outside of Dimona.
The soldiers were equipped with the most sophisticated protective gear in Israel at the time and their job was simple – to immediately reach the site of every Iraqi Scud missile fired into the area and to identify whether any of them carried a chemical warhead.
While Saddam Hussein fired some of the Scud missiles – none of which were carrying chemical warheads – in the direction of the reactor, they all missed their target.
Over 20 years have passed since then and Eisenberg is now commander of the IDF Home Front Command, in charge of preparing the Israeli public for the potential fallout of a future war that the IDF predicts could lead to the firing of 15,000 rockets and missiles into Israeli cities.
A soft-spoken officer, Eisenberg served during the Second Lebanon War as the commander of a reserves division that was later criticized by the Winograd Committee for not meeting its objectives.
The criticism did not prevent his promotion. In 2008 he was appointed commander of the Gaza Division, a position he held for two years, during which he commanded over Operation Cast Lead.
Last June, he was appointed commander of the Home Front Command.
Eisenberg often thinks back to his days as a young major stationed near the Dimona reactor as the turning point in the nature of warfare and threats Israel faces as a nation.
Drawing on the PLO rocket attacks against northern Israel in the 1970s and ’80s, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein understood in 1991 that the home front was Israel’s weak link. Today that threat has only grown.
According to updated IDF assessments, in a future war, Haifa and its surrounding areas could come under fire from 12,000 short-range rockets, Tel Aviv and the larger Gush Dan region from around 3,000 medium-range rockets and the rest of the country from close to 600 long-range missiles.
While the ranges are increasing, so is the level of accuracy. By 2017, the IDF believes that Hamas and Hezbollah will have a pool of about 1,600 missiles with a level of accuracy of a few hundred meters and 800 with a level of accuracy of just a few dozen meters, giving them the ability to hit what they want. Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i often tells guests to his office on the 15th floor of the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv that in a future war “this building won't remain standing.”
Eisenberg believes that the Home Front Command’s role in a future war can be split into three parts. On the one hand, it will be responsible for assisting the IDF in maneuvering through enemy territory and defeating the enemy, whether Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Gaza Strip or Syria.
Its second role, with the use of its search-and-rescue units, will be saving lives from under the rubble of buildings leveled by the missile fire. Its third will be to support the local councils and municipalities in Israel to ensure that they can continue to provide basic services for their residents.
The Home Front Command often refers to the Second Lebanon War as a model. During 34 days of fighting in the summer of 2006, a little over 4,000 rockets were fired into northern Israel costing the economy a loss of NIS 1.6 billion. Forty-three civilians were killed, meaning that there was a ratio of one Israeli casualty per 100 rockets.
Eisenberg tells his subordinates that the Home Front Command needs to aim to lower the ratio to one casualty per 1,000 rockets and to do everything it can to minimize the damage to the Israeli economy.
This can be done mainly by ensuring that the home front is resilient and that the Israeli people feel relatively safe, which can only happen if the public is prepared.
For that reason, the Home Front Command has increased its training regimen for the coming year.
Later this month, for example, it will hold its firstever civil defense exercise simulating an attack against Israel by a radioactive dirty bomb. As Iran moves forward with its development of a nuclear weapon, the threat of nuclear terrorism is also growing.
One of the ways to minimize the impact a future war will have on the Israeli economy is to do what Eisenberg has done over the past half-year – divide the country into 290 different sections and create a system under which an alarm will only go off inside the are that the incoming missile is heading toward.
The problem is that a siren that sounds in one neighborhood in Jerusalem will also sound in the one next to it. As a result, the Home Front Command is working with cellular phone companies and the Communications Ministry to send messages to people’s private cellular phones and to open internet connections on computers with IP addresses within the targeted area.
This way, if a person hears a siren and receives a second indication – either on a cellular phone, a computer or the radio, only then should he enter a bomb shelter. Otherwise he can keep doing whatever it is he was doing.
Shortly after taking up his post, Eisenberg stirred controversy in September when he said publicly that the likelihood for an all-out war in the Middle East was increasing.
“After the Arab Spring, we predict that a winter of radical Islam will arrive and as a result the possibility for a multi-front war has increased, including the potential use of weapons of mass destruction,” Eisenberg said in a lecture at the time at a Tel Aviv think tank.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak came out publicly against Eisenberg and media reports claimed that he was also rebuked for the comment by Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz.
For the most part, Eisenberg ignored the controversy and later explained to his subordinates that his goal was to provoke awareness within the Israeli public about the growing missile threat that the country is facing in the region.
His rationale is quite simple – it is better to be safe than sorry.